‘Moonlight’ won the best picture Oscar… no, seriously

Going in, the Oscars had been cast as a face-off between Hollywood insider romance La La Land and tiny queer gem Moonlight. With 23 awards handed out, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway walked out to present best picture. Moonlight, with two wins previous (best supporting actor Mahershala Ali and adapted screenplay fir director Barry Jenkins and Tarel Alvin McCraney), was a longshot, since by then, La La Land had six, including best actress Emma Stone, best director Damien Chazelle, cinematography, song (“City of Stars”), production design and score. Beatty seemed to vamp about what would win. He showed the card to Dunaway who declared the winner for best picture: La La Land. The team rushed the stage. Three producers gave acceptance speeches… until one of them revealed the horrible, horrible mistake: The real winner was Moonlight. People seemed to think he was just being gracious. The he turned the card to the camera, and without a doubt, the sole winner was Moonlight.

It was awkward it was terrible, it was unconscionable. No one knew if they should applaud. It seems like there’s time for a new hashtag: #OscarsSoSteveHarvey.

It wasn’t the fault of Beatty, or Dunaway, or the La La Land folks. Someone backstage seemed to hand Beatty the wrong envelope; it did say La La Land… and the name Emma Stone.

But when it was all sorted, this $1.5 million art picture was the night’s biggest champ, if not in number, then in prestige.

It felt like Election Night all over again. Was Putin to blame? Had James Comey been talking out of school?

It’s too bad the end of was shit show, since host Jimmy Kimmel and the performances were overall pretty good, even though politics were largely ignored. Manchester by the Sea took home original screenplay and best actor for Casey Affleck. Viola Davis won best supporting actress for Fences. Even Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge won two (sound mixing and film editing). Arrival‘s eight nominations netted one win, for sound editing; best picture contenders Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures and Lion went home totally empty-handed. Some on social media were appalled that the panned Suicide Squad gets to claim an Oscar victory (for makeup). Zootopia won best animated feature, as expected. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Then won for its costumes. The Jungle Book took best visual effects. But all most people will remember was the night the winner wasn’t the winner. And the real winner was awesome.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Preview the Oscar contenders tonight at the Magnolia

The Academy Awards will be presented next Sunday, and you probably have your favorites. But what are their chances with the only people who matter — the academy voters? Once again, the Magnolia Theatre in the West Village is hosting a panel discussion of the likely winners in all the major categories. And it’s all free. Just show up by 7 p.m. at the Magnolia and sit n. Oh, and I’ll be one of the panelists!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Film reviews: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ and ’13th’

James Baldwin was perhaps the most prominent African-American intellectual of the 20th century, and certainly one of the most unusual. Openly gay when few people were, he spent most of his life living abroad, particularly France. He wrote passionately in a variety of idioms — plays, essays (The Fire Next Time is necessary reading), novels (the semi-autobiographical Go Tell It On The Mountain) and poems. It was a social critic of race and sexuality, though, that he was distinguished for, in part because — unlike Malcolm X, Martin Luther King or Medgar Evers — he was not outwardly and actively political, but more an observer and commentator. He also didn’t feel that all white people were bad, as many black activists of his day professed.

After the assassinations of Malcolm, Martin and Medgar, though, Baldwin proposed to his editor a book-length analysis of how those very different men represented key elements of black experience. Baldwin got as far as a 30 page outline before he abandoned it; he died in 1987, the project never completely.

But now, it sort of has been completed. Filmmaker Raoul Peck has assembled archive footage of Baldwin and the men he knew, accumulated letters and the outline and cast Samuel L. Jackson to read them as Baldwin, and structured a masterful and shatteringly important film out of all of it — one that is as much about Baldwin himself as Malcolm, Martin and Medgar. I Am Not Your Negro, which has opened at the Magnolia Theatre (just as Black History Month begins), is a fascinating and thought-provoking film, and a testament to a time and person who valued thinking more than partisan name-calling.

The profundity of the film is Peck’s wisdom in allowing Baldwin’s words to do most of the heavy lifting. In an age of fake news, alternative facts, infantile presidential tweets and the cacophony of contemporary punditry, Baldwin’s writing was reasoned, measured, informed … and powerful. He dissects with a surgeon’s skill the influences in micronic parsing of these heroes of the civil rights era. And he leads us along unexpected paths. When, in 1968, Robert Kennedy predicted that the U.S. might have a black president in 40 years (significantly, Barack Obama was elected in 2008), Baldwin doesn’t stand by as a cheerleader rah-rahing the hopefulness, but expresses skepticism — as if the achievement wasn’t one earned, but a payment by whites to assuage their own guilt. (The fact Obama was often vilified with thinly-veiled racism and was succeeded by a race-baiting buffoon lends credence to his analysis.)

But rather than coming off as heady and dispassionate, I Am Not Your Negro is a bold and emotionally wrenching film, a plea for — if not civility — then at least rigor in our thought. It’s as powerful in its revelations about race as Cititizenfour was about U.S. intelligence. Don’t miss it. (Now playing at the Magnolia.)

You might also want to catch 13th, a Netflix original that, like Negro, is one of this year’s nominees for the Academy Award for best documentary feature. Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) takes a very different approach that Peck, compiling comments from nearly 40 politicians, activists and pundits (among them conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, as well as more liberal voices), who weigh in on race politics in the past 50 years and beyond.

DuVernay’s premise is that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which effectively outlawed legal slavery, left a loophole that allowed the government to use the legal system to imprison and subjugate black Americans and achieve virtually the same results. (Black makes make up about 6 percent of the U.S. population, and account for about 40 percent of the more than 2 million incarcerated today.) It’s a staggering statistic and a compelling theory, for which there is substantial support … including from Gingrich himself, who says the war on drugs (punishing crack possession 10 times worse than powder cocaine) was a disaster for the the African-American community. It’s more of a hot-button style of filmmaking (crowded with data, employing rap music and personal histories to emphasize its impact) than the more contemplative I Am Not Your Negro, but there’s no denying its power. (Available for streaming on Netflix.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gay critics group picks top films, TV for 2016, including ‘Moonlight’

GALECA — the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, of which I am a member — presents awards annually for the best in film, TV and the broader world of entertainment, with an especially concentration on gay-interest works. Voting for The Dorian Awards just ended, and as could be predicted Moonlight was the big winner, taking the prizes for Film of the Year and LGBTQ Film of the Year, Director of the Year (Film or Television) for Barry Jenkins, Film Actor for Mahershala Ali and Screenplay of the Year. Co-star Trevante Rhodes was also singled out as the Rising Star of the Year.

Best Film Actress went to Viola Davis for Fences, while Foreign Language Film went to The Handmaiden. La La Land took the award for Visually Striking Film and O.J.: Made in America was named Best Documentary. Rounding out the film awards were Christine for Unsung Film and The Dressmaker for Camp Film.

In television, Drama of the Year went to The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which also won best actress for Sarah Paulson. Comedy of the Year was awarded to Transparent, which also won best actor for Jeffrey Tambor. Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal was named best Current Affairs Show, and The Real O’Neals was named Unsung TV Show. Drag Race is Camp Show, while Kate McKinnon’s rendition of “Hallelujah” on Saturday Night Live the week after the election was named Musical Performance of the Year.

KcKinnon also tied Lin-Manuel Miranda for Wilde Artist of the Year, honoring a groundbreaking force in entertainment. John Waters was named Timeless Star and Wilde Wit went to the late Carrie Fisher.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Sam and Adam … and DJ Dawson!

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Maybe you saw the selfie this weekend that showed out pop stars Adam Lambert and Sam Smith faux-canoodling at an NYC hot-spot. Only it wasn’t truly a selfie, because when Lambert re-tweeted it, he cropped out the cutest one of the bunch — the guy who initially posted it: DJ Dawson. Hey, it’s OK if you wanna crop out people (I wish I could crop people out of my life) but props to the DJ! And what do you make of such self-promotion anyway?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Black starts a tweet slapfight with Sam Smith… and totally misses the point

JIMMY NAPES, SAM SMITH

You’ve probably seen by now the “oh no you betta don’t!” Twitter shaming of Sam Smith, the out pop star who won an Oscar on Sunday night for best song for “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre. In case you didn’t, during his acceptance speech, he said that he heard Ian McKellen say that no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar. (That is patently incorrect, although not entirely wrong in the context of actors who were out when they won.) He then went on to say this: “If that’s the case, even if it isn’t the case, I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world. I stand here tonight as a proud gay man and I hope we can all stand together as equals one day.”

Even though he was wrong on the facts, consider that sentiment: Unity, openness, pride. Here he was, taking his 45 seconds of impromptu acceptance to speak out about acceptance. A misstep, but his heart was in the right place.

Only Dustin Lance Black was having none of it.

He’s the out screenwriter who won an Oscar for Milk a few years ago. And even before Black, there was Bill Condon who won for writing Gods & Monsters. And songwriting Oscars are full of them: Howard Ashman won for writing several Disney songs as did Elton John, and Stephen Sondheim has the gold boy as well. There are many. But Black couldn’t take Smith at his sentiment, rather than his historical accuracy. Instead, he put on his Bitter Queen Hat and sent out this passive-aggressive tweet: “If you have no idea who I am it may be time to stop texting my fiance.” He then linked to his own Oscar acceptance speech.

A few days ago, Black dismissed the twitter feud as “a joke.” As a professional writer, he should have a better sense for what’s funny. Because instead of doing as Sam Smith was saying, we not only didn’t stand arm-in-arm with our straight allies, but we fed on each other. None of the other Twitter slogs who shamed Smith came out so forcefully against McKellen when he made the comment in a magazine some months back, because that missed the point. Yes, some actors have won Oscars who we now know are gay. But what is the barrier to that? Why can’t Smith be out and proud and not be attacked by other gay people for exhorting acceptance? Can’t we just say how hot Sam Smith is and be done with it?

Oh, and Dustin — tell your fiance there’s a “block” function on his smartphone if he doesn’t want tweets from Sam Smith.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Spotlight,’ ‘Mad Max’ big winners at the Oscars

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Abuse took center stage at the 88th Academy Awards last night. Spotlight, which won the DFW Film Critics Association’s top honor (and was my No. 2 film of 2015) — and was about the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal — won best picture and original screenplay, while Brie Larson won best actress for Room, playing a teenager kidnapped and raped for seven years. And the big winner of the night was Mad Max: Fury Road, a feminist futuristic action film the dealt powerfully with women held as sex slaves. It won six of its ten nominations (film editing, sound editing, sound mixing, production design, costume design, makeup).

The Revenant took three Oscars, all historic in their way. Alejandro Inarritu repeated as best director (he won for Birdman last year), becoming only the third director to win consecutive awards, and the third consecutive Mexican-born winner. His cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, won his third consecutive Oscar (a first) and Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar after six failed nominations in the past.

Alicia Vikander won best supporting actress as the wife of a transgender pioneer in The Danish Girl. The Big Short won for best adapted screenplay. Ennio Morricone won his first-ever competitive Oscar for his score to The Hateful Eight.

The huge upset of the evening was in supporting actor, which went to Mark Rylance as a pawn in international intrigue in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Sylvester Stallone was hotly expected to win his first Oscar for his heartbreaking performance as Rocky Balboa in Creed.

But there were other upsets as well, including best song to “Writing’s On the Wall” from Spectre, composed by out gay man Sam Smith. (Smith incorrectly said he was the first openly gay Oscar winner, but the sentiment was genuine). And Ex Machina, the contemplative sci-fi drama, beat out tough competition to take best visual effects.

Other winners: Inside Out (animated feature), Bear Story (animated short), Son of Saul (foreign language film), Stutterer (live action short), Amy (documentary feature) and A Girl in the River (documentary short).

Chris Rock, a former Oscar host, masterfully addressed the #OscarsSoWhite issue in his monologue and bits.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

FILM REVIEW: ‘The Revenant’

the-revenant-re_r709_mktg_006-088594_rgbWe’ve reached a level of technology where, if something can be imagined, folks in Hollywood can make it happen. The domination of digital effects, in the wrong hands, could result in technicians rather than artists overwhelming our moviegoing experience. (Let’s face it: That’s what superhero movies are.) But when you have a director like Alejandro G. Inarritu in control, the artistry remains intact. To steal from a superhero movie (by way of the Enlightenment), with great power comes great responsibility. And oh, what power is wrought by The Revenant.

The victory of vision with a purpose is evident in almost every frame of this towering yet intimate epic. In the 1830s, trappers in the mountainous Midwest are dealing with Native American raiders. Maybe the trappers are the bad guys, invading sacred lands; maybe the Indians are, ambushing men with a fusillade of arrows while the sit unarmed in camp. Who is right isn’t the point; there’s conflict, and everyone is on edge, from the wily and self-interested trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, in what may be the year’s best performance) to the methodical family man Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who lived with Indians (his teenaged son is on the safari with the white men) and understands the value of empathy. When Hugh is attacked by a bear — in what is the film’s most eye-popping and harrowing scene, one of the most viscerally arresting ever filmed — his survival puzzles his colleagues. Some (Fitzgerald most vocally) want to abandon him; the leader, though, believes he needs to be cared for until he dies … which should be soon.

But Glass doesn’t die that easy. He lives on, to the consternation of Fitzgerald, who plans to speed up nature … and commit heinous crimes in the process.

The Revenant is like Moby-Dick on land, a revenge movie about Glass’ determination not to be left for dead, and to take his pound of flesh from those who would deny him his humanity. For more than two and a half hours, Inarritu drags us through the snowy crags of the Rockies, through starvation, murder, animal attacks, manhunters and the interpersonal dynamics of post-Colonial America with a keenness and insight that feels continually authentic. That’s quite a feat, especially considering Inarritu’s last film, the Oscar-winning Birdman, was set in the constricting tableau of a Broadway theater, with only occasional forays down city streets in what appeared to be one continuous shot. His cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezski, opens up the visuals of The Revenant in staggering ways, doing for the cold American frontier what Freddie Young did for desert vistas in Lawrence of Arabia. He should be coasting toward his third Oscar (he also shot Gravity) in as many years.

The performances are just as essential in convincing us, with DiCaprio conveying mostly with his eyes and body (he speaks only a handful of lines in the film) and Hardy, or course, the scariest villain this side of the Sith. The Revenant is the year’s most anguished masterpiece — Hollywood filmmaking at its very best.

Opens in wide release Friday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DFW Film Critics declare ‘Spotlight’ the best picture of the year

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‘Spotlight’ won best picture

The Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards and Screen Actors Guild have all already weighed in on their votes for the best in film in 2015, and not it’s the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association‘s turn, a group of 31 print, broadcast and online critics (including me) across the region. This morning, the group named Spotlight — about the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal uncovered by the Boston Globe — best picture of 2015, and also won for its screenplay, but The Revenant took the most awards — four.

Unlike many critics’ groups, DFW actually lists runners-up in order, making the top 10 films: 2.The Revenant, 3. Carol, 4. Sicario, 5. Mad Max: Fury Road6. The Big Short, 7. The Martian, 8. Room, 9. The Danish Girl and 10. Brooklyn.

Oak-Cliff-Film-FestivalThe Russell Smith Award, named in honor of the late gay Dallas Morning News film critic, who succumbed to AIDS nearly 20 years ago, recognized cutting edge independent films, for which Russell was a tireless champion. This year’s recipient was Tangerine, the guerrilla-made comedy about two transgender prostitutes on the streets of L.A. one Christmas.

Best actor was awarded to Leonardo DiCaprio, for his nearly wordless performance as a man who swears revenge after a bear attack in The Revenant. The film also won Alejandro G. Inarritu best director honors; Inarritu won last year as well for Birdman, which also won the best picture Oscar. Runners-up for best actor were Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs; Eddie Redmayne as a transgender woman in The Danish Girl; Matt Damon for The Martian; and Johnny Depp for Black Mass.

Runners-up for best director were Thomas McCarthy, who helmed Spotlight; George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road; Todd Haynes for Carol; and Dennis Villeneuve for Sicario.

Best actress went to Brie Larson as a fierce mother in Room; she was followed by Cate Blanchett as a lesbian in the 1950s for Carol; Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant in Brooklyn; Charlotte Rampling as a wife discovering her husband’s past in 45 Years; and Carey Mulligan playing a Suffragette.

Supporting winners are actress Rooney Mara, as a young shopgirl discovering she is gay in Carol and Paul Dano as a young Brian Wilson in Love and Mercy. Runners-up for supporting actress were Alicia Vikander (for Ex Machina and The Danish Girl) , Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs; and Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight; for supporting actor: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies; Tom Hardy for The Revenant; Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation; and Benicio del Toro for Sicario.

Other winners include best foreign language film, Son of Saul; best animated feature, Inside Out; best documentary, Amy; and best cinematography and best score, both to The Revenant.

Association president Todd Jorgensen announced that this year’s awards were being dedicated to former DMN film critic Phillip Wuntch, who died in October.

The Academy Award nominations will be announced in late mid-January. My own top 10 list will come out on Christmas Day. Until then, Friday — our annual Hollywood Edition — will profile some likely nominees, and review more than half a dozen films being released for awards consideration in the coming weeks, including Carol, The Danish Girl, The Big Short and, of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We also have an interview with the gay director of Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What to expect on the awards list this season

DanishGirl_11440701241The National Board of Review, the first group to release its picks for the best films of the year, will announce its Top 10 later this week (with the Golden Globe nomination on its heels Dec. 10), so I decided to preview what you can probably expect to see. I haven’t screened all of these films yet, so these aren’t necessarily my votes (though they are informed by what seems good that I have seen); they are, rather, what the groundswell seems to be in a few of the major categories. I limit my list to 10 possible nominees in each category.

Picture/director: Spotlight; The Danish Girl; Carol; Bridge of Spies; The Martian; The Walk; The Revenant; The Hateful Eight; Joy.

Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl; Tom Hardy, Legend; Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes; Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant; Jake Gyllenhaal, Southpaw; Mark Ruffalo, Infinite Polar Bear; Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies; Matt Damon, The Martian; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Walk. Not on the list: Bryan Cranston in Trumbo, a heavily-pushed performance that I felt never caught fire and carried the picture; anyone from Spotlight (all the cast members have been lumped in the supporting category); Michael Caine, Youth (though he really should be).

Supporting actor: Liev Schreiber and Michael Keaton, Spotlight; Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies; Tom Hardy, The Revenant; Michael Shannon, 99 Homes; Paul Giamatti, Straight Outta Compton; Harvey Keitel, Youth; Sylvester Stallone, Creed; Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation; Benicio del Toro, Sicario.Not on the list (nut should be): Rick Springfield, Ricki and the Flash.

Actress: Lily Tomlin, Grandma; Cate Blanchett, Carol; Helen Mirren, Woman in Gold; Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van; Brie Larson, Room; Meryl Streep, Ricki and the Flash; Julianne Moore, Freeheld; Amy Schumer, Trainwreck; Soirse Ronan, Brooklyn; Jennifer Lawrence, Joy.

Supporting actress: Rooney Mara, Carol; Rachel McAdams, Spotlight; Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl; Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (or Anomalisa); Joan Allen, Room; Laura Dern, 99 Homes; Virginia Madsen, Joy; Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones